Anonymous sale, London, Phillips, 1849, lot unknown (according to the 1888 catalog below);
Purchased there (‘via Mr Barker’) by Sir John Josiah Guest, 1st Bt., (1785-1852), Canford Manor, Dorset (carries the family bookmark on the reverse of the panel);
By descent to Ivor Bertie Guest, 1st Baron Wimborne (1835-1914), Canford Manor, Dorset;
By descent to the Rt Hon. Ivor Guest, 1st Viscount Wimborne (1873-1939);
By whom sold London, Christie’s, March 9, 1923, lot 57 (as Van de Velde) to Asscher for 170 guineas;
- Ribbius Pelletier, Utrecht, from 1941 to after 1952, by whom deposited (‘Conservation’) in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht (according to a label on the back of the frame);
Anonymous sale, Amsterdam, Mak van Waay, 12 May 1975, lot 284, (as Hendrik Cornelisz. Vroom), where acquired by Willem, Baron van Dedem.
Utrecht, Centraal Museum, loan 1941-1952(?) (as the Dutch School, mid 17th century), 1952 inv. no. 1186.
A Catalog of the Pictures at Canford Manor in the Possession of Lord Wimborne , 1888, p. 101, no. 252 (as Willem van de Velde the Elder);
ME Houtzager (ed.), Central Museum, Utrecht . Catalog of paintings , Utrecht 1952, p. 403, no. 1186 (as a Dutch school, mid 17th century);
PC Sutton, Dutch & Flemish Paintings, The Collection of Willem Baron van Dedem , London 2002, pp. 96-99, no. 16, ill. (as Andries van Eertvelt, called Neantkens).
Andries van Eertvelt was born in Antwerp in 1590, where he joined the Guild of Saint Luke in 1609/10 as a master. He is generally regarded as the first and one of the most important Flemish marine painters of the seventeenth century. His work reflects the lasting influence of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Although nothing is known about his apprenticeship, it is believed that he was educated in the Northern Netherlands. A Dutch influence can be discerned in Van Eertvelt’s work, which may have come from Hendrick Vroom (1566-1640), although Van Eertvelt need not necessarily have been a student of Vroom. He has the dramatic feel of the early work of Vroom, the ‘father’ of Dutch marine painting, especially in his use of colors with a dominant green cast, the palette of the first generation of marine painters. Van Eertvelt also uses the same motif of sea monsters in many of his paintings. Van Eertvelt lived in Italy from 1628 to 1630, where he stayed with the painter and cultural attaché Cornelis de Wael in Genoa, who may also have had a formative influence.
Van Eertvelt’s marines, which had a lasting influence on marine painting in the Southern Netherlands, exemplify the general tendency in Flemish painting towards more overt theatricality and rhetoric, and are distinguished from the relative restraint and unaffected directness of most Dutch art. In his decorative works, the faithful reproduction is subordinate to the spectacle.
Van Eertvelt specialized in the new subject of naval battles, events, ships and storms at sea. His work, with its busy, brightly colored and dramatic style, was much appreciated by his contemporaries. The powerful brushwork is typical of Van Eertvelt’s stile furioso, which seems to stem from the work of Agostino Tassi and is said to be crucial for the development of the seventeenth-century Flemish navy.
It can be deduced from various sources that Van Eertvelt was highly regarded. In 1632, after his return from Italy, Van Dyck honored him with a portrait of a ship in distress sitting at his easel, which can be seen through the window. His high reputation is further evidenced by the tribute to his work in Cornelis de Bie’s Het Gulden Cabinet by the Edel Vry Schilderconst, published in 1662. He praised Van Eertvelt for painting his subjects ‘after life’ and for using ‘selfs ghe inventeert’ (his own designs).
Some of Andries van Eertvelt’s works were exported to markets in Portugal, Spain and even Nueva España. He also had an enthusiastic clientele in the Republic of the Netherlands and was one of the first Flemish marine painters active in Holland. His students are said to have included Hendrik van Minderhout, Matthieu van Plattenberg, Sebastian Castro and Gasper van Eyck. The latter often copied his teacher.
Van Eertvelt’s successful career continued after his return to Antwerp, and at the end of his life he was very wealthy. On June 23, 1649, he rented a house on the ‘Oever’ for the considerable sum of 240 florins a year. Three years later, at the beginning of August, Van Eertvelt died at the age of 62. Cornelis de Bie praised his work as ‘soo crachtich ende soo soet / Oft hy from childhood aen waer op Zee ghevoet’ (so powerful and so sweet, as if he had been at sea since his youth).
Viewed from the starboard side, Neptune is unusually large, as she has four masts, which was rare for Dutch seagoing vessels of this period. The ship is well armed, with all its gun ports open, and salutes on the port side. The ship is buzzing with activity and preparing to tack as a fresh breeze is blowing and the sailors are busy with the sails of the fore and mainmast. The array of flags on the ships celebrates the Dutch naval power, and in particular that of the province of Zeeland, whose flag figures prominently on the stern of the Neptune . Behind the Neptune , another smaller warship is already heading on the port side. A few other ships are visible in the distance, where the light seems to brighten towards the horizon.
The composition is set up with extraordinary accuracy and attention to detail, with intersecting diagonals. Neptune is depicted prominently in the center, surrounded by the green of the waves that gradually lighten towards the horizon, creating spatial depth. The palette is classic Andries van Eervelt, with the deep teal of the sea, the green waves crowned by thin white curly crowns. The swirling white waves with their stylized crowns indicate that this is a relatively early work, most likely painted before Van Eertvelt left for Italy in 1628. The sharp wave crests are painted in wavy lines of separate white brushstrokes and dots. The rendering of the waves seems to be based on first hand experience. The rigging and details of the ship have been carefully executed. The figures and parts of the ships, such as the reefed sails, are accentuated by striking and sharp touches of white. Van Eertvelt adds more life and drama to the scene through the contrast between the rich cream of the fluttering sails, the warm hue of the ship’s wood, the colorful scene of the god of the sea and his entourage at the stern, and the bright colors of the flags and the clothing of those on board.
This impressive four-masted warship, the Neptune , was one of the first of its kind. Due to the changed political circumstances, the United Provinces needed larger warships to fight the Spanish ships on an equal footing and to be equal to the English ally. Larger ships were also a necessity if the Republic was to undertake independent expeditions further from home. In order to expand her fleet as quickly as possible, she turned to the English to buy large warships and build them herself. On the left of the painting you can see a stern of a smaller three-master that carries the Dutch tricolor. This practice is illustrated by the English coat of arms on the rigging.
For a seventeenth-century viewer, a ship as a subject would also have had a moral charge. The ship as a symbol was open to various interpretations, from the ‘Ship of State’ to the ‘Ship of Life’. Metaphorically, the viewer was reminded that the safe management of a ship required vigilance, wisdom, prudence and, in the case of the “ship of life,” God’s guidance.
A scene of the god Neptune with his retinue is prominently depicted on the quarter gallery of the stern of the warship. On the side flank is the god of the sea in his triumphal chariot, drawn by seahorses, which thunders along with goddesses, sea nymphs and other sea creatures. The scene is lively, full of drama and ferocity. The virtues of the gods and goddesses are said to have been incorporated into representations in the ship itself. Thus, the figurehead of the immortal winged Pegasus, who represents speed, strength and artistic inspiration, would have been part of it. The decorative designs are said to appease the spirits of the sea and thus protect the ship.
The decoration on the stern often indicated the name of a ship. The Admiralty of Zeeland had two four-masted warships called Neptune , and not many were built because their draft was too deep for the shallow waters around the Low Countries, which prevented ships with a deep draft from maneuvering freely. In the resolutions of the Admiralty of Zeeland there is an account of the treasury of 1593. It states that Simon Ykens received an amount of 37 Flemish pounds for painting the Neptune (ZA, Court of Auditors C, inv.no. 6150 fol. 35v) and received an advance (ZA, Court of Auditors C, inv. no. 36990 fol. 5). In 1594, Van Campenhout made a statue of a Neptune that was built in Veere and bore the same name. Another Neptune is mentioned in the resolutions of the Admiralty of Zeeland of 16 September 1613 and 1 September 1614, when Admiral Haultain gave a detailed account of the boarding of the ship’s wooden decorations. From this it can be inferred that this ship was indeed the Neptune , one of the ships mentioned above . It is very likely that Van Eertvelt was commissioned to make this ship portrait to commemorate the four-master with its impressive ornamentation for current and future generations. There is no evidence that he ever saw the ship in real life.
THE ARTISTIC DECORATION ON SHIPS
The tradition of ship decorations goes back to prehistoric times. The design, structure and materials used in shipbuilding lent themselves readily to ornamentation, with colours, meticulous carvings and gold leaf enhancing an already beautiful shape. The decorations took the form of painted sails, hulls, flags, relief carvings and signs and symbols on the bow and stern.
The wooden ornamentation aboard a ship was the point where shipbuilding, architecture and art converged from the late 1500s until the arrival of steamships and the introduction of steel ships. A ship came from the wharf with no decorations other than the basic architecture. The decoration was a structural part of shipbuilding and there were generally accepted rules for its construction.
The most important humanists and artists of the time had to draw up the iconographic program for ship decoration and ensure that the work was carried out according to the client’s instructions. The craftsman was replaced by the artist, and professional painters were asked to work on ship decoration , a fact that is often overlooked. The decoration of ships was an important branch of artistic activity in the seafaring countries.
This practice of decorating naval ships played an important role in making visible the power of the fledgling Republic around 1600. The largest ships and the highly regarded ships had more elaborate decoration, with painted and carved figures and ornaments. Large warships were decorated to emphasize the military, political and sometimes ancestral power of a monarch and country, as these ships were often the only direct expression of a nation seen by its enemies.
The beautifully executed decoration on the Neptune is a very rare and early example of this. The elaborately and elaborately decorated nave, decorated with carvings and gilt decorations, appears designed for a display of grandeur. The decoration is so accurately depicted in paint and sculpture that one could speak of a second work of art within the painting itself.
Like the decoration on the stern, the figurehead was often intended to indicate the role or name of the ship, and always, in the case of naval vessels, to demonstrate the wealth and power of the owner. The concept of “Magnificentia” in the decoration of warships in the Dutch Republic, as in the rest of Europe, was seen as a means of a visual display of power.